Hundreds attended Saturday's One to Grow On ultra marathon, an annual 55-mile run that helps raise money to help sick and injured children in Northeast Florida and Southeast Georgia at Wolfson Children’s Hospital, and honor its inception in 1955.
Paul Wilson, whose newborn son, Luke, faced difficult surgery withing hours of birth, created the event, said he hoped to raise $5,000 by running 55 miles -- the age of the hospital during his son’s stay. Over the past three years, the event has raised over $1.5 million.
"My passion is running and I thought to myself, 'How can I help my son and the community at the same time?' It was really about bringing awareness to the needs of so many children," said Wilson.
All proceeds raised support the purchase of a 3 Tesla MRI, which is now available in Baptist Health’s new patient tower. It provides clearer, more accurate images, leading to earlier diagnoses and the elimination of certain surgeries and catheter studies.
Channel 4's Richard Nunn ran the entire 55 miles, while others opted to log them with help from a relay team.
"This is a really long run, but in the end, it's all about the kids this event helps every single year. To see the smile on kids faces is a wonderful feeling" said Nunn.
Wolfson Chidren's Hospital cares for 10,997 children a year. Every day 135 children are hospitalized and doctors perform more than 11,000 surgeries a year.
This symbolic events features 55 children who share their inspiring stories and celebrate with a birthday party.
For those who can't finish the 55 miles, there is a one mile relay option. There is also a 5-mile run from the Jacksonville Landing on Saturday, as well as a birthday party for the community that includes face painting, crafts and other family activities.
"As soon as I saw that Channel 4 was a proud partner of the 55-year celebration, I knew I wanted to do more," Nunn said. "I enjoy pushing my limits. The ultra marathon will allow me to test my endurance threshold and shed light on the amazing things being done at Wolfson Children’s Hospital."
A number of families explained why it was so important to lace up for the marathon.
"Wolfson's takes care of the patients by making each one of them feel like they're the only one," said runner Lorraine Sitton.
That one turned into hundreds as runner after runner laced up to sweat it out and raise money for Wolfson Children's Hospital.
"The runners are absolutely amazing," said Chad Perce, Ultra Marathon chairman. "Of course, we have the ultra marathoners who are doing 55 miles as individuals. We have relay teams, approximately 40 plus doing individual 5-mile loops."
Motivated by the idea that every child deserves another birthday, the One to Grow On ultra marathon is a celebration of their lives.
"This race is huge," said Frank Forte, whose daughter is battling leukemia. "Wolfson is a non-profit. Everything they raise goes towards equipment and technology to better care for our kids."
The hospital is a place of hope, second chances and medical wonders for local families.
For Carmen Chappell, whose daughter has leukemia, the race is a chance to show her little girl how much she has inspired her.
"This is my first race ever," said Chappell. "For me to finish five miles, I've only been training for four weeks. I did it for my daughter. It's been wonderful."
As runners reached the finish line, they did so with renewed hope for the little ones in their lives, and are committed to taking the facility to the next level of care.